The  Oratory of  St. Joseph, Mt. Royal, Montreal

The air was nice and crisp. The moisture teased out the beautiful green of the grass plots that lay between the solid concrete paths and the escalating steps

that led to the Oratory of St. Joseph. A magnificent eulogy dedicated to St. Joseph the Foster Father of the Christ and husband to the Immaculate Mary.

There was no miracle about this scene. The bus let us off unto te sidewalk of Mt. Royal which led unto a path at the top of the hill facing the wonderful statue which announced the facade of the Oratory.

At once, I felt so blessed to be given the opportunity of viewing this building and grateful to my companion for dragging me along. Brother Andre began this building in 1904 as a twenty-seat wooden chapel in the woods. The work began in 1915 on the crypt, mausoleum and Basilica and took another forty years to be completed, after the death of Brother Andre in 1937 and his friend Calliste Boullard, who wanted to thank God for being cured of a long outstanding illness.

On December 16,1917, Catholics attended the consecration of the future Basilica of St. Joseph's Oratory by Archbishop Bruchesi

The magnificent dome which thrusts itself skyward to the greater glory of the Father was designed by Dom Bellot, a french monk, inspired by the Dome over the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. It was completed ion 1988, one year after the death of Br. Andre in early 1087......... Thi dome was 39 metres in diameter and rose 155 metres above the street, a surprising measurement since the street was almost 800 metres off, the entrance and the space between was filled with parking spaces, steps and green grass as shown in the photographs. The dome is the fifth largest in he world to be redeveloped in 100 years, a program which is expected to cost $75M.

The inside of the Dome which was no less magnificent with its bronze sidewalls and figures, to the entrance where laid, off the passageway, east of the bedroom of Brother Andre, perhaps to facilitate the ringing of the bells in the mornings. I really do not know and this is one of the areas I did not photograph, perhaps, because I was so wonder struck by the spectacle and the crowd which milled around me.

This was our first visit, my companion and I, who were representing the Dixie Road Co-operative at the International Conference of Co-operatives in Canada held in the late 1980s in Montreal This time we attended Masses in the Main church and on the lower floor. These Masses followed each other and were not held at the same time. I was struck silent by the unending rows of crutches that lined the wall of the passageway on the two floors but because the building was now filled with visitors, picture taking was out of the question.

On my return I was able to t photograph the life size statues of the Nativity scene, the altar dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel and others, the names of which I am not able to recall. We left as the stream of visitors, estimated to be a million a year  came flowing through the entrance on Mt. Royal.

My return, of course was unheralded. I gave up going to a comic hour held at a theater close to the Hilton Hotel where I stayed, so that after the meeting when all were so excited to be going to the theater, I could not wait to climb the many steps leading to the front door of the Oratory and be very humbled to join the pilgrims on my feet while they climbed the steps on their knees.

I did not know St. Andre at this time. He was already on his way to canonization but I did not correct the data which seemed like a fairy tale surrounded by the pilgrims on their knees.

As I was swept unto the main level , Mass was already in progress and I entered an available pew for a short while then wandered out of the door and passed the many cabinets filled with all manner of aids to walking except machines and took the steps to the lower level where I passed the many life size statues which formed the creche dedicated to the Nativity scene, all of this taking place so quickly, flashing past me a I pressed the top button of my JVC, even at times forgetting to do so. Suddenly, I found myself outside of the altar dedicated to the Angel Gabriel , which was protected by some open grates.

This altar carried a tabernacle which was enclosed in  aluminum/silver, which peaked heavenwards and was in close proximity to another altar made and decorated in a fiery red. To this day I do not remember to whom this altar was dedicated, although I believed it was the Holy Spirit.

The entire atmosphere should be conducive to prayer but I was so amazed that such structures were in existence that I needed time to soak it all in.

Again, I retraced my steps to pass by those life sized figures,repeating my small, humble prayers wondering if the Lord will have the time to listen to me among all of this magnificence and among all of this hurt, as the incapacitated swirled around me, supported or helped by their companions all in a respectful ominous silence of hope and if I remember well, there were no murmurs or cries of pain coming from the lips of the humanity who must be hurting, perhaps because the mercy of Christ emanated from the several Crucifixes of hope.

Then suddenly, it seemed, I popped out of the great front door, knowing full well that I still must visit the top floor.

The rain never let up on my final visit. I remember well because of the several gaily colored rain outfits as well as the several types of umbrellas carried by the persons wearing those outfits on the subway.

I did not get too wet because the subway was close to the hotel and the bus to Mt. Royal led from the subway, but the rain was no deterrent to the visitors at the Oratory. Having traversed the open space and running up the stairs out of the rain, I opened  the big doors and went straightaway to the upper floor where Mass was in progress. I sat in a pew at the back and sort of sunk into the divine  silence of the Church which, as usual was packed, full of all types of people who did not utter a word of suffering, who followed to the end of Mass  and remained , like me, seated in the pew in a sort of hopeful silence which the atmosphere promised.

Divine silence cannot be described. It envelops all who attend, it absorbs and contends, like a holy hug, not pretending, not promising but actually delivering a security, a safety that is not experienced anywhere else.

I refused to move,. savoring the quiet, the long shadows casts by the flames from the candles that remained alight on the main and side altars as if Christ was extending His Sacred Safety to all who remained in the Church. There was a small altar, back to back with this one to which I intended to go when I could encourage myself to leave this sacred atmosphere.

 After an hour or more, I pulled myself into the other room and remained there until I decided to leave the Oratory. I must once more, describe the  complete silence which existed in the Churches, although people came in and left,presenting a moving canvas, but no one was uttering a word, a murmur, a sigh, as if all feeling, all suffering were placed in the awesome presence of the Lord.

I had to go back to the Conference, which was closing later that day and wished that I could take that atmosphere with me, not for a day, a month, a year but always , if this busy world we lived in would allow it.

On my way out, I took a glimpse of the room of St. Andre, preserved as it was the day he died. The small bed covered with a white sheet, the pillow at the head, the

Crucifixes on the wall, the small table and the pair of sandals at the side of the bed.  That was my last look inside the building. I said an Our Father  and Hail Mary as I crossed the space to the outstrips, oblivious of the crowd of people who joined the line to go up the steps into the building.

I took no pictures that day, I was distracted by the silence of the scenes which were ever changing around me and which, although so many years ago seemed to be so present. I recalled some of the many sayings of my generation " keep quiet and listen to the Lord,  "if you keep quiet your god will speak to you". I know that this is so because I seemed to have experienced it that day at the Oratory and even later with the final party at the Hotel among our delegates at the Convention.

Today, many years after this experience, I can recall, perhaps not everything that happened then, but at least the highlights which were very impressive and remained in my memory. Thanks be to God.

                                                                                                 The  Sailor Dance

The Sailor Dance was a collaboration of three factors, the steps themselves, their origins and the musical accompaniment.Jason Griffith in his Voyage of the Fancy Sailor Said that for a large part the dance steps were an ape of the gaits of the sailors  when they walked aboard the vessels that  they spent most of their lives on and followed when they walked on solid ground. With the modern vessels, I do not know if that is possible but I must take notice if and when the opportunity  arises.

Those guys must have been very vigilant to isolate those steps from  the walk of the land lubbers, although, with few exceptions, they differed, but even with those exceptions, the stiffening, sliding movements with the sudden stops could have been very close to the walk of the land locked humans.

Mr. Griffith  , in his sparkling work of the Voyagers stated that in the late 1940s when he joined Horace Lovelace in his presentation "Sailors Ashore" , the sailor celebration  was limited to the line shuffle which moved from side to side across the pavements of the roads of Trinidad.. He recalled that at this time, sailor band leaders such as Cito Velasquez all played with Horace Lovelace. Horace was an artist who worked with the Trinidad Guardian at a time when he was shooting to fame as "pepper wine", the fast left winger of the Colts Soccer Team of Belmont  where he joined with Len Munroe , Jim and Bertie Harding who also played with Jason when Horace became ill.Horace's celebration saw one of the largest gathering of world acclaimed sportsmen from both local and international. I was honored to meet them all.

Not long after several of the guys  who played sailor either with Lovelace, All Stars, Fascinators or Cito's San Juan band began to experiment with the rolling steps

which they called the Sailor Dance. Once more a Belmont band was credited with the creation of the sailor dance but with fierce competition since most of the " sailors' " developments came from the guys who played sailor with the Belmont Band  where they first saw the steps of the sailor dance. These were, Jason, Horace, Cito, Baby Douglas, Sarge, Jim Harding who Jason worked with and my wife 'Cita who just reminded me that she was not from Belmont and other women whose names I  wished that I could remember..

The sailor dance developed with the rise in popularity of the sailor bands, the better and more creative the costumes the more famous became the dance.

Now all bands playing sailor had their own crew who can sailor dance and do it well, so much so that the spectators looked forward to the various dance battles when sailor bands meet each other until in its hey day  Jason said " we won band of the year". "How so" said Braitwaithe and Minshall. How so indeed whenJason stopped the clock with as many or more members, head pieces out of this world, with scintillating costumes, wall to wall black and white and...yes band after band of sailors, men and women doing the sailor dance and Jason knew that Sailor Mas had come home.

They were backed by the music of the sailor band which boasted of Dudley Smith who played a tune on the ping pong " Enjoy Yourself ", which was not a tenor, alto or guitar pan. Sun Land had a distinctive beat which  was characteristic of the band and which seemed to accompany and encourage the steps of the sailor dance.

Basically, the steps of the sailor dance started with a heel and toe forward movement by a left or right slide, turn and backward heel and toe from which or like Michael (Jackson) developed the famous moon walk that helped sky rocket him to the top  of the dance world. Don't fool your fat, we had good dancers who , with some hard work,could have been there too.. Incidentally the Five visited Trinidad and staged a performance in The Queen's Park Savannah, probably in 1970 ,

during the dance wars.

These steps are accompanied by knee jerk to the side and forward moments as we;; as the shaking of the shoulders from side to side. The sailors carried canes or some other colored branches, large die and tins of baby powder which raised like clouds of smoke to herald the bands approaches.

The same year that Jason won band of the year, he had the largest group of Firemenever seen in a sailor band, so fantastic, so exciting that they will require separate descriptions of a very distinctive past to a glorious and scintillating apex, fullof color, bronze, steel and dance ofacilitated by the bounce of the Sunland Steelband and the slithering of the pokes as they left the gloved fists of the dancers.

I digress, the Sailor Dance was enormously interesting to choreograph as I shifted my attention to the presentation of the first Black History Celebration of the Peel Fountain of Wisdom Senior Services, The celebration was put on in Februaury,            at the South Common Mall when I had the honor of choreographing a sailor dance to Desperadoes, Symphony in G of Kitchener, arranged by Bradley, which was a roaring success and was never duplicated. The entire piece took twenty minutes and we had a whole lot of fun on stage.
Even though All Stars won Band of the Year with a sailor mas, the mas itself is in the Doldrums. However, with the rise of opinions  criticizing and rejecting scanty costumes and the lack of creativity it seemed that the way is opened for a return to the sailor mas and I mean the gut type such as the creativity of the King Sailor and the wonderful headpieces as in " Trip to Mars", "Avatar"," A Moon Walk" and so on including new steps to the sailor dance. Those guys can do it. They have so much talent , both in the work and the leadership and I will be willing to help.


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